Sunday 18 October 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 18/10/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Valuable lesson

Back in your high school days, did you ever have a substitute teacher you wished was responsible for your education full-time and not just during flu season? Was there a bright-eyed graduate who stood in front of the blackboard and explained things with more clarity than you were used to? Or was there a renegade who barged in a couple of times a year and shook your thoughts, challenged what was being drilled into you and sent you home laughing, thinking and hoping that he’d stick around for a few more days?

There used to be a certain giddy excitement when our chief nun would come into our class at about 08.50 on an October morning and tell us that, due to illness, we’d be having classes with a replacement teacher for the coming few days. At this point, Sister Tannis would take the floor for a few minutes to make sure we were all in place and then do the handover until the sub showed up. And while we wait, a quick word about Sister Tannis. Never in the history of human personal style has a nun worn a denim culotte, tight burgundy turtleneck, knee-high suede boots and crazy, big, chrome frame eyeglasses quite like she did. I have no idea what branch of the church she belonged to but it must have been something like the Sisters of Perpetual Chic and Good Finds at the Church Rummage Sale.

Wait?! What’s that sound? If it’s a Ford Bronco atop jumbo tyres rolling up in front of school, then it must be our sub. He always entered looking a little bewildered and sporting a massive parka with an extra fluffy coyote hood. He was a bit too beardy for regular service at our school but the scruffiness added a certain urgency to the whole situation, as though he were scrambled from the far north of Manitoba sometime after midnight and had driven all night to save our social studies (history and geography) class. This might not have been too far from the truth: he always had fantastic tales from Canada’s high north; the beauty, the wildlife, the vastness, the darkness and the sadness.

Often our classes would take an extreme detour as we wanted to hear about life teaching at an inaccessible radar station or a one-classroom school belonging to an indigenous community. We heard tales of whiteouts on straight roads without the tiniest kink, darks with no beginning or end, shops with empty shelves and kids who inhaled gasoline during recess. Our stand-in teacher reminded us how lucky we were in our warm classrooms, sparkling new school bus and navy uniforms, and how tough life was in other corners of the province, where polar bears roamed and whales came to hunt. When he wasn’t so interested in the curriculum (which was frequently), he’d set up an impromptu parliament and teach us how to debate.

In a 2020 context, he would be labelled a survivalist or a libertarian, and forbidden from going anywhere near a school. He was big on teaching us about the importance of responsibility and taking care of ourselves, and liked to draw on his vast experience in the wilderness to remind us that it was down to the individual to pick themselves up and not blame others. He also had more than a few “out there” views that he wanted us to challenge and discuss. Was Canada really a cultural mosaic? Should indigenous languages be taught to all? Were we being served up too much French culture in a province that had a stronger Ukrainian community?

These were big, controversial ideas to pose to 12-year-olds and, as I recall, some didn’t go down so well around some dinner tables. I even remember our nun-in-chief coming in whenever he’d done a stint to deliver a little disclaimer that she also hoped would reach the dinner table. Thanks to our sub from Manitoba’s far north, I joined the debating club at my next school, then the following one and the one after that. I thank him for making me think more critically in the classroom, for creating a bit of discomfort and for believing in the power of personal responsibility.

On Friday afternoon, Samuel Paty was beheaded in a small town outside Paris. He was a teacher of history and geography. He encouraged his students to debate. Monsieur Paty also had to explain complex topics, such as the Charlie Hebdo attack, to 15- and 16-year-olds – a news story that probably dominated their households when they were youngsters. He had to put the story into context: freedom of speech, secularism, the role of the press, Islam in all its forms, the values of the Republic. For his teachings, an 18-year-old Chechen hacked Monsieur Paty’s head off with a knife.

Would you fancy being a teacher dealing with such topics? No, I didn’t think so. Yet this is what teachers do every day in all corners of the world: confront uncomfortable, controversial topics and seek to make sense of them. At the same time, however, curricula are being revised, textbooks shredded and campuses turned into “safe zones”, where ideas that were once hotly debated are now simply cancelled. Will Charlie Hebdo also be cancelled because it’s too difficult to articulate in a manner that all find politically acceptable? And what of Monsieur Paty?


Join the club

The internet is full of communities and “friends” but few seem to help us forge the sort of connections that we find truly meaningful (writes Josh Fehnert). This sad fact is borne out by research that shows many people feel lonelier and more isolated than ever before. So what to do? Well, trust the Danes to have workshopped a simple but ingenious solution. Studies suggest that they are one of the happiest nations in the world and they attribute some of this to a high level of participation in clubs.

This doesn’t just mean heading down to a squash court once a week but could include meetings – the lockdown rules of your city abiding – of say board-game aficionados, group sojourns to the sauna (clothing optional) or even architectural tours of your neighbourhood on the third Wednesday of every month. The thing to recognise is that joining a club helps to create the social capital that trickles away in the anonymous back-and-forth of social media, message boards or piling in to criticise something. So go on, get some skin in the game. If you can’t join the local team, then you could always support it. Or if you can’t stand them, just start a club to express your disapproval.

For more simple advice on being a little kinder to yourself, each other and the world around you we suggest seeking a copy of The Monocle Book of Gentle Living.


Positive altitude

Fashion designer-turned-innkeeper Ruth Kramer is co-founder of Brücke 49 – the finest hospitality venture in Vals, Switzerland – which she runs with husband, Thomas Schacht. Here Kramer tells us why she loves plunging into a freezing well near her home, shares some of the perks of being a hotelier as well as owning a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever.

Where do we find you this weekend?
I will be at home in Vals, in our little hut at the end of the world.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Quiet start or a jolt?
I wake up early. You have such a crazy routine when you have a hotel. Thomas and I are then up and out to walk our dog Rigi who’s a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. I look like a parrot walking behind them because I have a routine of exercises that I do while we’re walking, to make sure that I still have muscles when I’m 80.

Soundtrack of choice?
Thomas is my private DJ so he makes soundtracks and playlists for me all the time. I really like Satin Jackets and a Danish artist called Lis Sørensen at the moment. And I still love Lisa Stansfield.

What’s for breakfast?
When we have a day off, I like to make homemade pancakes with fresh berries. I love cappuccinos too. We have a good coffee machine and I’m a little bit addicted to it but in a good way (quality, not quantity). We get our beans from a small roaster in Zürich called Stoll.

News or not?
On Saturdays I always drive down to Ilanz to buy the FT Weekend but I don’t usually read it until Sunday; I love How To Spend It. Then, of course, I read Monocle’s bulletin and Dezeen. I like these publications because they’re about design and it’s important for me to look at design and what is happening in interiors and with colours.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
Both. Again, I have the exercises that I do on my walk and downward dog is part of that. Rigi needs to go out three or four times a day too – she could go on her own but I really like to walk with her, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
Skiing in winter. We live on the slope so we can just click the skis on and take off for two hours. Some of my favourite things to do year-round are ice-cold river dips; we have a little well and I hop in for two seconds. It lifts my spirits and makes me super happy.

What’s for lunch?
At this time of the year we will go for a walk and there is a little hut called Hängelahütte, at 2,000 metres [elevation]. It’s family run and it does the most simple lunches – maybe a good soup or some dried meat, cheese, tea and bread. If we don’t go there then we just stay at home and do something similar ourselves.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
When you live at 1,527 metres and the nearest shop is at 1,200 metres, then you think about having a lot of good basics in your larder. So I always have eggs, sourdough, lemons, butter, avocado, olive oil, tomatoes, ricotta and a bottle of franciacorta, which I love. It’s like a champagne but from Brescia in Lombardy.

Sunday culture must?
I really like a good movie – I love Tilda Swinton and I love I Am Love. It has to be a film that moves and inspires me. I’ve given up on hours of browsing because I know what I like to watch. I also have a lot of books that I buy and never have the time to read, so that’s what I’ll do on Sunday.

A glass of something that you’d recommend?
If not champagne or franciacorta, I love to have a good gin and tonic. We had a guest at Brücke 49 who checked in with a lot of bottles in his luggage. He owned a small gin business called Urbn Drnk. He gave me one of his bottles after he checked out and it’s amazing.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to? Who would join?
The River Café [Ruth Rogers’ restaurant in London] with my daughter Pernille. I have had the finest memories there. I would order the daily menu; they understand how to make the simplest food taste fresh and wonderful.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
Give me a foot bath and I’m happy. I have a bath salt which soaks out all the bad things in your body.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
No. I have a very simple dress code – I like men’s style but for women. I always wear denim, a cashmere sweater and white shirt, big earrings and red lipstick. It’s quite easy.


Nasi goreng

Our recipe writer assembles a sure-fire Indonesian classic. Don’t be thrown by the exotic-sounding kecap manis (sweet soy) or sambal oelek (a fiery, chilli sauce). We’ve noted how to make these simple condiments yourself and help the dish sing with ingredients that you’ll have to hand. Here’s how..

Serves 2
180g jasmine rice (or 300g cooked jasmine rice. Using leftover rice works well in this recipe)
half a cucumber
1 tomato
4 tbsps oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
100g prawns
100g chicken breast, chopped into 2cm piece
80g green beans, chopped into 5mm slices
2 large white mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper (white pepper works)
½ tsp organic chicken stock powder
1 tbsp kecap manis, Indonesian sweet soy sauce, you can substitute with 1 tbsp of soy sauce cooked with 1.5 tbsps brown sugar in a pan until the sugar dissolves and the sauce thickens
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsps sambal oelek, or a chilli sauce such as Sriracha with a dash of lime juice or vinegar added to it
2 eggs


  1. First, wash the rice in a sieve over a bowl, changing the water three times until the water gets less milky. Drain to remove excess water and leave it for 15 to 30 minutes.
  2. Place the rice in a pot (ideally a cast-iron pan), add 210ml water, cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and cook for 11 minutes. When the time is up, turn the heat off, keep the lid on and leave it to sit for 10 minutes. While you are waiting, cut the cucumber diagonally into 5mm slices and cut the tomatoes into six wedges.
  3. Heat 3 tbsps of oil with the garlic in a large frying pan over medium heat until the garlic turns golden. Add the onion and chilli; cook until the onion turns translucent. Add chicken, prawns, green beans and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. When the chicken and prawns change colour and look cooked through, add the rice. Stir-fry for another 3 minutes. Add chicken stock powder, kecap manis, oyster sauce and sambal oelek and stir fry for another 5 minutes, until the sauce and seasonings coat the rice evenly.
  4. Turn off the heat and set it aside, keeping it warm. Heat the rest of the oil in another frying pan over medium heat and fry the 2 eggs until the egg white sets and is crispy but the yolk is still runny.
  5. Put fried rice in a small bowl and pack firmly, cover with a serving plate and turn the plate upside down. Top with a fried egg, arrange the cucumber and tomato around it, repeat with the other plate and serve warm.


Plane crazy

It is in many respects commendable that we cling to some idea of flight as uniquely romantic among modes of travel (writes Andrew Mueller). It does remain astonishing that we can leap between cities at nearly 1,000km an hour in complete safety and at relatively little expense. It’s understandable that we’ve been missing the freedom that air travel represents. But there are indications that some folks are missing it a bit too much.

A few airlines, seeking to patch the abyss in their finances, have found takers for flights that don’t go anywhere. EvaAir and Starlux have both launched services that take off, do a couple of laps of Taiwan and land at the same airport. Last weekend, Qantas flight QF787 departed from Sydney, bumbled around Australia’s skies for about eight hours, then arrived in Sydney. Every available seat of the restricted capacity flight had sold out in 10 minutes: fares in business class were just north of €2,000.

Stranger still is the mini-boom in flight experiences that don’t even leave the ground. Thai Airways has turned its staff canteen in Bangkok into a themed diner in which customers can sit on aeroplane seats to consume airline food served by uniformed aircrew: they even get boarding passes beamed into their phones. Air North, in Canada’s Yukon, has made it possible for the folk of Whitehorse to order their in-flight meals – including the bison pie – for home delivery. Singapore Airlines, meanwhile, plans to convert one of its idle A380s into a restaurant. It’s another telling illustration of the degree to which coronavirus has turned our world upside down: we’re clamouring to spend time on things we usually can’t wait to get off.


Give it a spin

At this point in the year, post-lockdown, I have reconnected with nearly all of my loved ones – friends and family both at home in London and my native Italy (writes Chiara Rimella). Yet there’s one person who I hadn’t quite got around to meeting up with again. Kaya is my favourite spinning instructor and I hadn’t seen her in months before booking back into my regular spinning class last week.

Now, Kaya had no idea that I missed her. I have not come far enough on my gym journey to become the kind of person who is upfront and effusive in her declarations of admiration towards teachers. So as I clopped with my cycling shoes into the dark studio, I felt the pangs of unrequited love: would she remember my face? Would she even notice me at all?

It turns out the latter was easy to achieve, as I visibly (and noisily) struggled to hook my cleats to the pedals. This lack of grace is the most embarrassing mistake for a newbie. But the class, you see, doesn’t start until everyone is strapped in. “Are you alright, babe?” asked Kaya gently, into her microphone, so that everybody could hear. “I’m so sorry,” I panted back. “It’s been a few months.” The excuse snatched a smile from both her and some other impatient attendees.

What followed was 45 minutes of exercise just as I remembered it: loud, relentless, excruciatingly hard. Like many others, I have dabbled with at-home workouts during lockdown but none ever left me as sweaty as this. Part of it has got to do with the fact that in a class, giving up is not an option. The most cynical people would probably call it peer pressure but I like to think of it as team spirit: where at home you’d give up, face down, here you simply have to carry on. It’s odd feeling part of a (distanced, disinfected) group again.

As the lights blinked back on at the end of it all, I walked past Kaya to leave. She looked at me and asked: “How are you feeling, babe?” Perhaps it was the adrenaline, or the fact that she addressed me directly but I knew the answer. “Good. I feel good.”


Breathing space

“Oaxaca has a sensational culture in the sense that there’s a lot of texture,” says Elliott Bennett Coon, an American who has lived in Oaxaca for the past decade. “There’s so much music. There are parades in the street. It’s a very celebratory, bright, colourful place.”

Bennett Coon is one of the founders of Oaxaca City’s newly opened Hotel Sin Nombre. Just two blocks from the town’s bustling market and its leafy, shaded zócalo (main square), the new hotel is housed inside a restored 17th-century colonial mansion. It’s fitted with a rooftop pool and 22 guest rooms but its highlight is the central courtyard: a quiet, serene refuge with thick limestone walls in the heart of the city centre. “It’s kind of like you exit the bustle of the street and then you come into this sanctuary,” says Bennett Coon. “It’s quiet. It’s inviting. It’s like you walked into a different world.”


Status grow

It’s no surprise that gardening television shows across the globe clocked record viewer numbers in 2020 (writes Nic Monisse). With many cooped up at home, neglected greenery suddenly had the attention it deserved. The garden beds and indoor planters flagged as projects for long weekends were planted, watered, pruned and fertilised. “Our homes are our sanctuaries,” says Peter Milne (pictured, on right), co-founder of The Nunhead Gardener, a London garden centre that opened its second location – in Camberwell – in September. “The past year, and this summer in particular, has made people appreciate and value their homes more than ever before.”

This appreciation has meant that although the past few months were rough for retail the climate is ripe for a new garden centre. Taking a punt on an unlikely South London high street (not far from their original outpost in Nunhead), Milne and his partner Alejandro Beltran, have set up shop in a former bank. Nestled among coffee chains, bookmakers and small supermarkets, the space offers a wide collection of indoor and outdoor plants, homeware and garden supplies. It’s the first shop of its kind in the area, giving locals in-person access to the wares and horticultural advice. And, judging by the constant flow of customers, it’s a hit.


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